Remembering Lived Lives

A Historiography from the Underside of Modernity

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Michael Jimenez
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , March
     2017.
     182 pages.
     $23.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781498234856.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The goal of Remembering Lived Lives: A Historiography from the Underside of Modernity is "to explore the way we read, teach, and write history especially as it relates to Christianity" (4). It focuses on "theologians and historians from ethnic minorities or from outside the Anglo-American/European world," and recommends "a historical theology that privileges the oppressed" (8-9).

The first chapter discusses Karl Barth on the openness of history, with a tangent presenting W. E. B. Du Bois on the liberating effect of telling historical truth. Author Michael Jimenez argues that "Christian theorists of history remain in the realm of theological speculation and biblical interpretation ... ignoring the events of concrete history, especially those outside Europe" (49). The chapter ends by connecting Barth's concepts of near and distant neighbor to "the postcolonial terms of hybridity and border thinking" (37), citing Tariq Ramadan, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldua, Robert S. Goizueta, Daniel Boyarin and Mayra Rivera—a touchstone for Jimenez—among others.

The second chapter's challenge to Eurocentric history is the heart of the book. Jimenez first discusses the work of Edward Said and Slavoj Žižek in the light of references to Walter Mignolo, Sylvia Wynter, Dipesh Chakrabarty, S. Sayyid and Wole Soyinka, underlining that "appeals of suffering at the hands of Europeans ... matter for historical-theological thought" (69).

Jimenez then turns to Ignacio Ellacuría and Enrique Dussel, both of whom expose "the ideology of Eurocentrism in its indifference toward the poor majority" (73–74). After touching on a couple of "soft critiques of the philosophers of liberation," Jimenez argues that a historical hermeneutics should start with "the language of Otherness" (76, 81). Recognizing that "we are living in a historical time when Europeans no longer have a monopoly on both historical and theological thought," he champions "the underside of modernity ... the proliferation of voices from below" (84). At the same time, he insists on "the continual importance of European thought," and warns against "seeing Christianity ... as simply a foreign element shackled upon people across the globe" (84–85).

The third chapter extends James McClendon's link between theology and biography: "biography as theology features a narrative approach to history" (98). Jimenez suggests that the martyrs of El Salvador—especially Ellacuría—illustrate the value of historicization in theology. Jimenez then looks at "a small sample size of examples of theology as biography from thinkers across the globe who identify as liberation theologians": Harold Recino on the underside of "the inner cities of the United States"; Chung Hyun Kyung representing Asian women's theology; James Massey on Dalit theology; Mark H. Ellis on Jewish liberation theology; and Richard Twiss on "the experience of Native Americans ... [and] the difficulty of raising historical consciousness in the United States" (98, 101, 106). Jimenez compares the biographies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in order to underline that "a historical-theological reading of biographies cannot ... simply accept the general narrative" (109). Citing Paul Tillich, Jimenez recommends that we "purposely read literature from outside the West and non-Christian writings as a way to gain empathy for other people and cultures and to actually gain insight for one's own intellectual development" (115). This emphasis on the value of liberation theology for individual readers as consumers of intellectual work—"opening up ... awareness," "prevent[ing] an easy escapism" (117)—seems at points to stand in tension with a preferential option for the oppressed.

The fourth chapter focuses on the film, The Mission (Roland Joffé, 1986), in order to illustrate "the way historical biographies show up in the world of cinema" (117), and to underline the film's "dimension of voyeurism" (128). Jimenez concludes that "Christian cinema presents itself as disingenuous and without a historical consciousness," and suggests that "movies focused on recent Latin American history ... would introduce church audiences to what real persecution looks like" (138).

My own interest in this book was piqued by the cover blurb's statement that it "focuses on issues and theorists located primarily in Latin America." In the end, the book turned out to be both more disparate than I expected—bringing in thinkers from around the globe where a more consistent Latin American focus would resonate better with the book's emphasis on contextualization—and more limited—discussing almost exclusively theologians. On the one hand, these approaches are appropriate. Jimenez wants readers to recognize that "theorists across the world are attempting to delink from the Western paradigm" (64); and the focus on theology reflects his disciplinary positioning. On the other hand, this narrowing sits uneasily with his choice to "advocate for an interdisciplinary approach" (89, see ix, 42). If the goal is to highlight "theorists ... avoiding a Eurocentric viewpoint" (16), Latin American scholarship is rich with relevant critical voices and perspectives that would further the book's agenda. The sub-title illustrates this point by using "modernity" in the singular. There is no acknowledgement of multiple modernities, where, for example, Brazilian sociologist José Maurício Domingues could fill this gap. The focus on liberation theologies would be usefully complemented by a broader recognition of the centrality of marxist thought to Latin American intellectual and social history, for example, in dependency theory. Jimenez appeals briefly to the concept of hybridity but cites no literature on it, where we might perhaps expect a nod to Néstor García Canclini. But this line of criticism reflects my own disciplinary perspective.

This book is pitched well for a classroom or generalist audience—the bibliography has no publications in any language other than English, though many translations are present. Jimenez discusses his own intellectual trajectory, and his core concern is pedagogical: "by finding ways for historians and theologians, and their students, to dialogue about these issues, it allows us to move ahead and question Eurocentric models of understanding history" (11). In this light, the book is rich and inspirational reading. Jimenez concludes, "History writing was once the place where nationalism was the norm. Theology was also the place where triumphalism was the norm. ... I argue that empathy must be at the basis of good history and good theology" (146).

About the Reviewer(s): 

Steven Engler is professor of religious studies at Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada.

Date of Review: 
July 21, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Michael Jimenez is an instructor of both history and theology at a number of schools in Southern California, including Azusa Pacific University.

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